Plantar fasciitis (fashee-EYE-tiss) is the most common cause of pain on the bottom of the heel, with over two million people treated annually, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. While the plantar fascia usually absorbs the high stresses and strains placed on our feet, sometimes pressure can damage or tear the tissues, resulting in the heel pain and stiffness of plantar fasciitis. “Plantar fasciitis is caused by the inflammation of a thick band of tissue (a ligament called the plantar fascia) that supports the arch of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes,” explains Amy Morris, a Crosstown Fitness trainer.
But if you’re experiencing this condition, there’s good news: Because it’s aggravated by tight muscles in the feet and calves, exercising and stretching them out may effectively release the pain associated with plantar fasciitis.
Safety and Precautions
If you experience heel pain that you suspect may be plantar fasciitis, you should seek professional medical advice from a doctor who specializes in foot disorders or sports medicine, Morris advises. The best treatment plan is different for everyone, and other options may include rest, icing the foot, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, cortisone injections, supportive shoes and orthotics, physical therapy, or even surgery. However, if exercises or stretches are what your doctor recommends, the below can effectively help treat the condition.
Ready to try some movements that may help to gently release the pain and tension? Ahead, see seven plantar fasciitis exercises that work towards strength and healing.
Band Flexion and Extension
With a band around the middle of your foot, point and flex to full tension. “This creates a PNF stretching scenario, where the flexion and extension of the foot should slowly increase each rep,” fitness trainer Stef Corgel says. For best results, move through each rep slowly, concentrating on arch and calf mobility.
Stand upright next to a chair or other fixture for balance support, Morris advises. With weight evenly distributed over both feet, raise your body up onto the toes as high as you comfortably can, holding for three to five seconds, then slowly lowering back down. Repeat 10 reps for three to five sets.
Standing Calf Stretch
Corgel suggests starting off by placing your hands against a wall or supportive surface. Stagger one foot in front of the other and with a flat back, lean your body weight into the wall. Lean, release, and circle (in both directions) multiple times while keeping your feet flat against the ground. You’ll feel a deep stretch in your back Achilles and calf as you complete this exercise on both sides.
Plantar Fascia Massage
Using the palm of your hand or thumbs, apply pressure to your heel and start to work in a line toward the big toe to provide myofascial release. Continue to move from the heel to each of your toes. To increase pressure and tension on the fascia, point and flex your toes while massaging.
Dorsiflexion Toe Smash
Personal trainer Brianna Bernard suggests creating full dorsiflexion (backward bending and contracting your foot) by rolling the knuckles of your toes over the floor.
Standing Calf Stretch With Toe Extension
Place a block against a wall and assume a standing calf stretch position, Corgel says. With your big toe extended and pressed tightly into the block, lean into the wall, hold for a few seconds, then release. Complete this exercise on both sides.
Toe Towel Grab
From a seated position, place a cloth towel on the ground and attempt to scrunch it with your toes. “Over time, releasing the tension in the fascia allows for more range of motion for the toes and will relieve tightness in the arches and calves,” Corgel says.